Warplanes: Video Killed The Tiny UAV


November 30, 2011: While U.S. infantry units are favoring larger micro-UAVs, there are still smaller ones that have a niche community within the army and marines. For years, the most common micro-UAV has been the two kilogram (4.4 pound) Raven [PHOTO]. But for the last seven years, the army has been offered the even smaller Nighthawk [PHOTO]. This 727 gram (1.6 pound) aircraft has a 66cm (26 inch) wingspan, a cruise speed of 50 kilometers an hour, max endurance of 60 minutes, max range (from operator) of 10 kilometers. Normal operating altitude is 160 meters (500 feet), but it can go as high as 3,500 meters (11,000 feet). Going that high takes about fifteen minutes, so normally a lower altitude is used. The battery powered motor and small size makes the Nighthawk difficult for the enemy to detect. It takes ten minutes to recharge the UAV battery and launch it again.

The manufacturer has tried several times to get the U.S. Army to buy large quantities, without much luck. Small numbers have been purchased, for niche users. Three years ago, the army was offered a version that could be launched from a TOW missile launcher. Called the TowHawk, it was the Nighthawk using its normal circular carrying container to fit in the 150mm wide TOW missile launch tube. Once propelled out of the launch tube (by compressed air), the wings unfold and the electric motor starts. The army didn't need it.

Nighthawk can carry either two day cameras or one night vision camera. Normally it sends photos back to the operator. Troops prefer video, but that requires more weight than Nighthawk can carry. When first launched, the UAV flies to preprogrammed GPS coordinates, at which point the operator can fly it, or it can keep flying to GPS points assigned by the operator. A game-controller type device is used for operating the UAV, and any laptop can be used to run the flight control software.

Nighthawk was originally known as TacMav. The design has been constantly improved over the last seven years, but has always lost out to the larger Raven, whose greater heft makes it easier to use when there are strong winds. Smaller UAVs, like Nighthawk, have control problems whenever there is a strong wind. But the main pitch for the Nighthawk is that it gives more units, like small patrols their own UAV reconnaissance capability.




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